BALLSTON, Va. - The first four days of the Washington Capitals Prospect Development Camp have been a figurative barometer for those players attending. While the complete roster features 46 players, five prospects have established themselves are the proverbial cream of the crop. We break those five down here.
1. Mattias Sjogren
The 23-year-old Swedish center is truly a man among boys on the ice. Listed at 6'1'' and 209 pounds, Sjogren has used his size to his advantage and has imposed his will on his fellow, but smaller prospects. During Wednesday's scrimmage, Sjogren dominated the face-off circle and pushed top prospect Cody Eakin around with relative ease, winning almost every draw between the two. Sjogren has yet to factor onto the score sheet through two scrimmages, but his presence has been felt.
Many comparisons have been drawn between Sjogren and his Swedish center counterparts in Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom -- and rightfully so. All three possess great playmaking abilities and see the ice incredibly well. Sjogren's skating needs to improve, but the biggest difference between Sjogren and his possible future teammates is his toughness and strength advantage. For example, Sjogren took a high stick to the mouth Monday and lost a tooth in the process, but got back on the ice very quickly. Sjogren's tenacity definitely caught the eye of Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau.
"That's the one thing that I've found about the Swedish guys that we've had from [Backstrom] and [Johansson]: they're really tough," Boudreau said. "If he's in the same mold ... he's bigger but he knocked out a tooth, loosened another one but he wanted to get back out there. Full marks for that."
Much like his best friend Johansson did last year, Sjogren should expect to get a good look from the Caps' front office during training camp and could very well be in position for a roster spot. Sjogren is definitely the most NHL-ready prospect taking part in camp this week and he is ready to embrace his future.
"You feel the pressure. But I'm ready to come over here and just accept the pressure," he said.
2. Cody Eakin
Eakin's invitation to training camp next month is almost a formality. The 20-year-old is set to turn pro this fall, but whether or not that happens with the Capitals is uncertain. While Sjogren may be one of the most physically-imposing prospects, Eakin's determination is second to none, which has caught Boudreau's eye:
"I just look at him out here - it's day one of a development camp in July - and he's got that determination that he's coming in to make the team," Boudreau said. "He's going to be in tremendous shape and he's going to do, I think, whatever it takes to stick. He's got that mentality."
To illustrate Eakin's worth and skill, look no further than a trade that he was involved in last year in the Western Hockey League. The Kootenay Ice traded five players and three draft picks to the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for Eakin's services. Despite that, Eakin still has plenty of work to do in order to make an impact with Washington. Eakin is undersized and needs to work on his strength to match his overall skill set. This is Eakin's third Development Camp, but it should be his last.
"You can't come here and take camp off and decide, ‘Hey I'll wait for rookie camp. It starts now. You have to be prepared for today and the rest of the week and carry it over and work hard in the summer," Eakin said. "That's where I've set my goals. I am coming to camp to make the team. And if I don't, that's the way it goes and I'll play where I end up."
3. Stanislav Galiev
Possibly the most offensively-skilled prospect attending camp, Galiev has shown vast improvement from his first professional camp last summer. Unlike Sjogren and Eakin, Galiev should return to Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) this fall, but his confidence has grown. He helped lead the Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup, and that will only help him in the future.
Galiev seemingly has a sixth sense on the ice and knows where to be to get the best possible shot. During Wednesday's scrimmage, he barely missed the net on a two-on-one odd man rush with Sjogren, but redeemed himself shortly after when Travis Boyd found him right in front of the crease for a goal. The 19-year-old has a dash of Alexander Semin in him (he has a tendency to force shots), but Galiev has shown that he is willing to do what it takes to succeed.
"He looks more composed," Boudreau said. "He's gone from 176 to 186 pounds. You can see him growing up. I think he's really good with the puck. I don't know his complete strength situation yet because I've only seen him for a little bit, but to me when I look at him, I think he's got a real awareness on the ice of things that are going on and like an awful lot of Russians, he's got a tremendous skill set."
Galiev's positive attitude is infectious and he commands attention, but he is more focused on making a good second impression.
"I'm not nervous like last year, because last year I just get drafted and it was my first camp and I was nervous a lot. I didn't know coaches, guys in the locker room -- I was a little shy last year, but this year, I'm just excited to be here again," he said. "I just want to show how I've improved since last year."
4. Dmitri Orlov
Orlov made his North American professional debut with the Hershey Bears in 2010-11 and appeared in 19 games for the Caps' American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. While making the Caps next season could be a stretch, Orlov should become a fixture on their defensive corps sooner rather than later.
The 19-year-old Russian two-way defenseman shows flashes of Mike Green in his play, joining the rush and pinching in the offensive zone. Orlov, however, is much more physically imposing and has not endeared himself to some of the other prospects. During Monday's Group B session, he got physical with prospect Garrett Ross during a drill, which led to Ross giving him a jab in the leg. Later on, Orlov crushed Ross with a huge open-ice hit. Also, during Wednesday's scrimmage, Orlov clipped Taylor Stefishen, knocking him out of Thursday's practice. Orlov must work on his discipline and corral his aggressive play, but he relishes the opportunity to play for the Capitals.
"I'm going to do whatever's required of me, and if they send me back to Hershey, I'm going to go back and forth that's fine," he said. "It's part of this. I'm definitely going to try to get noticed on that end and get in the lineup"
5. Travis Boyd
While the aforementioned players should all become fixtures in Washington in the near future, the 17-year-old Boyd still has a few years before he will be considered. But it is that stress-free attitude that has allowed Boyd to really shine in the two scrimmage.
"I'm just getting some good bounces out there and working well with the guys I'm playing with, so it's been a good start," he said. "I'm just out there having fun. I'm not worrying about having to perform to make the team or anything. I'm out just playing some hockey."
In two games, Boyd has five points (three goals, two assists). A 2011 sixth-round draft pick (177th overall) and the youngest overall prospect, Boyd will attend the University of Minnesota this fall.
Danick Paquette: Paquette, who the Caps acquired less than a week ago from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Eric Fehr, is quite the personality. He is the epitome of a player that teams love to have, but hate to play against. In four days, Paquette has compared himself to both Sean Avery and Matt Cooke, which says all you need to know about his style of play. If that is not convincing enough, he admitted to reporters Thursday that he is indeed a "pretty dirty player." He got into a fight with Garrett Mitchell in the third period of Thursday's scrimmage and committed the first minor penalty of both scrimmages when he drilled Adam Mitchell with an elbow.
"If [former NHL Senior Vice President Colin] Campbell was watching, it might've been a little bit of a dirty hit in the first period, but that's what he's gotta be is one of those guys that everybody loves to hate," Boudreau said. "And he scores a goal, hits a guy with what was a clean hit in the third period and ends up getting into a fight. He did everything what you expect him to do."
But Paquette does have a deceptive offensive skill set, scoring a goal in Thursday's game by wreaking havoc in front of the net. Hershey or the East Coast Hockey League's (ECHL) South Carolina Stingrays figure to be Paquette's ultimate destination next season, but he is the kind of player that the Caps lack and need in their lineup.